Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
‘There was never a lack of bloodshed in the history of Constellation.’
Gilbert’s words resounded in the teenager’s ears.
“You overinterpreted what I said, Your Highness.” Cyril sneered while he reached out his hand to take a red fruit that was the size of a fist—Thales could not recognize it—and rubbed it against his sleeve.
“I meant to say that as the oldest Jadestar vassal, the Fakenhaz Family has seen far too much of the same drama under the shadow of Sentinel, and we will continue to watch until the last day, just like we did since the first one. We have seen so much that we have grown numb.”
When the Duke of Western Desert stopped talking, he took a bite happily and contentedly out of the fruit in his hand, completely ignoring Thales’ doubtful gaze.
However, Thales continued to look at him warily. “Is that so?”
Cyril’s cheeks moved. He seemed to be enjoying the taste of the fruit he chewed on, but his terrifying and withered face only caused this particular action to be even more horrifying.
“Similarly, the truth of the Bloody Year no longer matters, just like how no one cares about the crisis surrounding your grandfather’s coronation after sixty years.”
Cyril leaned back. His lively eyes were like a venomous snake; they were locked on Thales.
His voice was unclear. “What matters is what the Bloody Year has brought upon us, and what we should do to handle it.”
Thales looked away and tried hard not to pay attention to the process of how the fruit in Cyril’s mouth—he spoke while he ate—was chewed into small bits and ground into powder.
The prince spoke seriously, “I do not like to make things unnecessarily mysterious, nor do I like to beat about the bush.”
Cyril swallowed a mouthful of the fruit and gave a snort. He supported his weight with his left elbow pushing against the arm of the chair. He leaned over with his whole body, and his gaze suddenly became intimidating.
“Then maybe you are not fit to be a Jadestar.”
Thales turned his head slowly to look at him. Cyril continued to maintain a somewhat teasing gaze while the prince kept a calm face.
They watched each other in silence. There was something in the atmosphere that was hard to explain. After a few seconds, Thales lowered his head, stared at the duke curiously, and whispered, “My father knew about it, right?”
Fakenhaz’s right hand paused for a moment in his toying of the half-eaten fruit. The spark in his eyes faded slowly.
Thales inhaled softly and said in a serious tone, “Regardless of how you assisted Herman back then, how Herman bribed Shadow Shield, or even what happened that night, he knew it all.”
The prince said those words with certainty. The curves at the corners of Cyril’s lips disappeared slowly.
“So what if he knew?” The duke spoke as slowly as a predator would walk when it approached its prey. “And does it matter, even if he knew nothing?”
Thales exhaled. He understood now.
“You revealed one secret after another just now, from Herman to Shadow Shield.” Thales looked up with a firm and resolute gaze. “You did it to gauge just how much I knew, especially how much my father told me.”
Cyril did not say a word, but in that moment, his gaze on the prince grew sharper.
“And the reason you have done so is because…” Thales did not continue speaking. He only glared at the duke with burning eyes.
‘It was on test how much King Kessel trusted his heir. It was to test the foundation of the Jadestar Royal Family.’
It was only after a while that Cyril revealed a faint smile, turned his body, and pointed at Thales. “As I said, we are finally talking.”
Thales’ face grew more solemn. The teenager looked down and went along with the duke’s topic of conversation.
“So, based on what you said, once we cast aside the details and the truth… what did the Bloody Year bring us?”
Cyril laughed. He did not answer Thales directly. He only tilted his head and took a bite of the fruit in his hand.
“I heard that Baron Williams found you first, Your Highness.” As he chewed, he spoke unintelligibly, “What do you think of him?”
Thales’ eyebrows moved. ‘Williams? What do I think of him?’
Thales’ first thought was of when the man wrapped his arm around his body as they sat on the saddle. The teenager quivered as he tried to get the scene of how the man took him for a horse ride out of his head.
“The baron is…” But when he opened his mouth, he found himself tongue-tied. The duke relaxed and waited for his reply with some degree of interest.
Roman’s murderous eyes appeared in Thales’ mind, and so did his face, which cautioned others to stay away and seemed to say “I’ll kill you if you interrupt me again”.
The prince felt horrible. ‘How does one go against his heart to praise someone when you can’t seem to find any strengths in? By the name of the Desert God, I can’t possibly say he looks “cute”, right?’
The prince coughed lightly as he tried to keep his expression from changing too much. “I think he is cu… Ahem… Well, he has good leadership skills, he is perfectly calm and composed when he commands the army, and…”
Thales was stuck on the next adjective. Cyril did not look at him. He only snorted lightly and made no comment about Thales’ remark.
After racking his brain for the words, Thales seemed to have recalled something, and he added hurriedly, “And, erm, he has extraordinary talent and skill, and is good-looking?”
‘Praise the Desert God, I finally found his strengths.’
Cyril hummed and nodded before he turned to spit the core out. The muscles on his terrifying face moved, and his lips, which had a huge portion of it sunken in, twitched. He narrowed his eyes and looked at Thales.
“Fine. I have to admit that…”
Although he had slowly gotten used to the duke’s face, his glance still sent chills into Thales’ heart.
Cyril laughed coldly. “Williams… That man does look better than I do…”
He smiled and raised his right hand. His thumb and index finger were very close to each other while the pits and deep lines on his face looked like they were scrunched together.
“Only a tiny bit.”
Thales stared at Cyril’s unique face and tried his best to suppress his awkwardness. “Oh, is that so…”
Cyril looked at his expression, and he finally could not hold back from laughing. As the duke laughed, he reached out for the second fruit on the food tray and picked it up.
“Just get straight to the point. Those who have dealt with him before know how he is.”
Cyril studied Thales’ face carefully. A chilly look seeped out from his terrifying face.
“Roman Williams.” Cyril’s eyes sparkled coldly. “He is an anti-social, cold, arrogant, aggressive… and shameless wretch.”
‘Shameless wretch?’ Thales held back from nodding and tried to maintain the slight frown on his face.
But Cyril did not seem to care about his reactions anymore. The Duke of Western Desert sneered and looked out the window.
“Admit it. When he enlisted in the army during the Bloody Year for the first time, he was far more annoying than the fearless brats, and made others more displeased with him than they were towards the arrogant and unreasonable bullies. He was more dreadful than the vicious and merciless gangsters, was more likely to make others bear grudges against him than the tax officials who exploited civilians on different levels, and was more disgusting than the tyrant who regarded himself supreme.”
Thales took a deep breath. He could not help but remember the Legendary Wing’s arrogant look.
The duke did not bother with his own image. His gaze as he stared at the area outside the window was piercing and disdainful as though he had recalled something.
“All who have dealt with him suffered because of his deeds. His accursed bad temper, his arrogant look, and his damn annoying habits. All that is left for him is to carve ‘I’m a f*cking fool’ on his face.”
Thales raised his eyebrows as he listened to Cyril’s vulgar language. “Maybe the baron is not good at socializing…”
Duke Fakenhaz snorted coldly. “Not good at socializing?”
Cyril took a violent bite of the fruit in his hand, as if he was not biting at food, but at an enemy he would never come to terms with.
“Have you seen how he buried prisoners of war alive and collected dead men’s heads? Have you seen his indifferent expression when he wipes blood off himself, and how naturally he does it, as if it was supposed to happen? Do you know he is never merciful when he kills one of his own as well?”
Thales recalled how unperturbed the man was when he dug Stake’s eyes out and blood splashed everywhere, and how he pried off the dead man’s jaw. An uneasy feeling rose in his heart.
Cyril let out a cold snort. “Do you think the shock brigade he formed in the Stardust Unit is called the freak squad because of the few Psionic prisoners he let out of prison? No.”
Thales pursed his lips and did not speak. The Duke of Western Desert munched on the fruit and shook his head, laughing coldly.
“That is because beneath that pretty skin, Roman Williams, the Legendary Wing, is someone who does not care about rules and profits, has no compassion and loyalty, has a strange temper, and is unpredictable. He is cold, cruel, and has strange tastes. He has an usual logic that governs his thoughts far beyond our understanding, and cannot be ordered around by Renaissance Palace. He is a true freak.”
Cyril Fakenhaz’s gaze grew cold as he spoke clearly and resolutely. Thales inhaled deeply as he recalled how the Legendary Wing broke Norb’s leg, and disdainfully called the king a “son of a b*tch”.
“Perhaps a genius is bound to have some weird habits?”
Cyril took a look at the half-eaten fruit, and curled up the corner of his lips. “Genius?” The duke looked up, and his gaze grew profound. “Then I must say, promoting a freak who has many bad habits, did many crimes, and cannot be controlled by the royal family; and placing him in Western Desert—the far end of it—stationing him at the chaotic Western frontline; and going all out to supply regular soldiers for him…”
Cyril turned his back towards Thales and looked at Blade Fangs Camp with a profound look in his eyes. He shook his head and clicked his tongue.
“Your father must also be… a genius.”
Thales frowned. He could not tell if it was genuine flattery, piercing sarcasm, or maybe both. But the prince understood a lot now.
Thales shook his head decisively. “It is no use. As I have said, I hold no power over these matters. You will not be able to take Blade Fangs Camp back into your hands through me, or repossess the things you have lost to my father.” His face was cold, and it made him look unapproachable. “You should go. It is my mealtime, and I am not used to spending it with others.”
But against Thales’ expectations, Cyril did not react negatively or wage a tit-for-tat argument against his clear and resolute rejection, neither did he make sarcastic remarks in his usual tone. The duke’s expression melted away. He did not smile or jeer. He only straightened his body and looked out the window quietly.
“Blade Fangs Camp? The things I have lost? Your Highness, have you seen the old Western Desert?” He watched the bustling life outside the window.
Thales glanced at Cyril’s side profile, and suddenly found Duke Fakenhaz to be somewhat dazed at the moment. “The old Western Desert?”
The duke hummed and shook his head slightly when he seemed to have recalled something. “You know, when I had just inherited my position eighteen years ago, and when I received the General Edict of Constellation, I rushed all night to Eternal Star City to listen to your grandfather’s verdict to mobilize the army so that he could put down the revolt. I listened to him with the other eighteen nobles… I never thought that Western Desert, where I was born and raised, would be the next one.”
Thales’ expression changed as he sank into deep thought. ‘Eighteen years ago. The General Edict of Constellation. Mobilize the army to put down the revolt. But…’
The prince looked up and asked doubtfully, “The next one?”
However, Thales’ gaze turned blurry in the next moment. He wrapped his hands around his body instinctively and received… the piece of white bread that the Duke of Western Desert threw at him.
In his surprise, Thales watched Cyril withdraw his left hand calmly and put another piece of fruit into his mouth.
“Now that eighteen years have passed, very few young men know how Western Desert looked like before the battle of the Bloody Year, before the Legendary Wing was born, and when my uncle was still the Duke of Western Desert,” the duke said faintly as he munched on the fruit.
Thales pursed his lips and frowned as he watched the duke, who clearly seemed reluctant to leave (though he had no idea whether he was reluctant to leave the prince or the prince’s meal), and he opened his mouth with rage and resignation to take a bite of the soft and fine white bread.
“Back then, the ruler of the land, the Baron of Blade Fangs Dune, Garrett Luhmann, was my uncle’s important vassal and guest. He was always in and out of the Ruins, and you can say that we grew up together and were like brothers.” The duke laughed as he watched the teenager look up from the bread unhappily. His gaze focused slowly. “Back then, we shared a rare peace with the Great Desert.”
‘Peace?’ Thales was startled as he tore through the bread.
Fakenhaz spoke slowly, “We never intruded onto their space, and they—be it the Eight Great Orc Tribes or the Five Great Barren Bone Tribes—never intruded onto ours, too. We abided our rules regarding our patrols and how we should impose taxes, while they went by their principles when they plundered or herded livestock. Both parties watched each other from afar, stayed discreetly wary of each other, led their own lives, and only minded their own businesses. It was fair, formed by mutual agreement, and natural. Countless traveling merchants, herdsmen, mercenaries and adventurers entered and left the Great Desert freely as they communicated, traded, competed, fought, clashed, and blended with the desert bandits, exiles, orcs, Barren Bone people, or even people of the same trade from the other end of the desert. They wrote stories of their own lives.”
Thales munched on the bread and frowned as he recalled the owner of My Home, Tampa. He recalled what he told him about the history of Blade Fangs Camp.
It was the era of mercenaries.
‘Right. What happened to Tampa after that?’
“At that time, there were even Barren Bone people who craved civilization and migrated to Western Desert. When I reached the age of riding a war horse and began patrolling the desert, I could often see Barren breeds at the border. If a person was bolder and followed the merchant groups into the desert, that person will have the opportunity to see the faces of ‘the enemies of humanity’. There was nothing unusual or peculiar about seeing the merchants and gray mixed breeds getting red in the face as they gesticulated while they talked and haggled over prices.”
The duke’s voice was calm and smooth, unlike his usual sharp and piercing voice. There was a faint quiver in his voice as he breathed, as if he was trying hard to suppress something.
‘Barren breeds… Gray mixed breeds…’ Thales recalled Mickey, the Barren Bone man in Dante’s Greatsword, and Raphael, who had dark red eyes.
And… Kandarll Nushan, the extraordinary orc who gave Thales his coming of age ‘name’.
“There were even times when the chamber of commerce decided on a fixed trading day in the desert, and they were just like the markets in our villages. I heard that some merchant groups even opened a legendary trade route that allowed one to access countless oases. It reached the deepest area of the desert and even the Golden Passage. It proved that the coverage of the Great Desert was no smaller than the Constellation which we are proud of.”
There was indescribable amusement and nostalgia in his words. It was clear that he still missed those times.
“Have you heard of the bardic poem about the Three Dawn Heroes Seeking Dragons in the Desert? Have you heard the story about the Great Desert metropolis, Caligri, which was home to countless treasures? Have you heard of the Barren Bone people’s old war legend about the God of Desert War? Have you heard of the ghost story about the Heretical God who lived in seclusion under the golden sands and engulfed all living things in the world? Have you heard of the legend about the countless treasures from the Empire hidden in the depths of the desert?
“Back then, they were fascinating stories that originated from the mysterious Great Desert. Many people who set off from Western Desert and Constellation to enter the Great Desert brought the stories back with them. The stories then became legends, passed down through the ages.”
‘Bardic poems, stories, legends. The old Great Desert and Western Desert…’ As Thales listened quietly, he even forgot to eat his bread.
The duke let out a sigh. “Just like that, the people of Western Desert and the desert were cautious of each other, but they also needed each other. There were occasional conflicts between us, but we also cooperated with each other. Such a strange and interesting ecology was sustained, and it filled this land which has suffered from drought for thousands of years.
The room was quiet for a few seconds.
“In the desert, the men who worshipped, or should I say, feared the Desert God, had an old saying.” Fakenhaz said faintly, “The Desert God does not deliver disasters, but all lives in the world still perish…”
Thales’ eyebrows moved, and he subconsciously continued, “The Desert God does not need to forgive the desert, but all lives in the desert are still spared.”
Cyril’s eyes sparkled. He seemed surprised that Thales knew the words.
“So you know it.” The duke smiled faintly. “Without waiting for the Desert God to bring disaster upon the world, there are already disasters everywhere in the world. Without waiting for the Desert God to spare anyone, the existence of the Great Desert is already His greatest leniency.”
Cyril looked like he was lamenting about something. “Can you feel it? The Desert God as portrayed in these words is neutral, supernatural, and indifferent, and understands the world thoroughly. Isn’t the portrayal just like the Great Desert itself?”
Thales did not reply. He recalled what Raphael, the Barren Bone man, warned him before he left Dragon Clouds City. But back then, the Barren Bone man’s explanation for the words were: There was danger everywhere in the terrifying desert. The weak feared disaster, the lucky sought to be spared.
“‘Only the people who renounce weakness and luck are capable of maintaining a foothold in the ruthless Great Desert.”‘
In comparison, Duke Cyril’s explanation of the proverb sent chills down a person’s back, but the explanation was rather… balanced and impartial.
The duke was not done speaking. His voice traveled faintly and airily in this narrow but bright room at the top of the tower that happened to be heavily pervaded by cold wind.
“If the world is chaotic, and disasters seem never-ending, it is alright. Because no matter what disaster it is, when it reaches the desert, it will be buried from being endlessly exposed to the sun and sandstorms that have lasted for thousands of years before its eyes. If the world is peaceful and everyone seems to be indulging in a luxurious life, it is alright. The Great Desert witnesses conflicts that cause bloodshed and a maintained, merciless ecological system every day. It will make you relearn everything you need to know in order to survive.”
The Duke of Western Desert narrowed his eyes. “It can’t be described as a comfortable stay, because its leniency is only one of its many sides. It is also not terrifying, because the level of its mercilessness is just right.”
As Thales was deep in thought, Cyril threw the fruit core away. A sharp glare rose in his eyes. “Even when the world is flooded, only the desert remains as usual.”
The duke let out a long breath before he turned to glance at Thales. He seemed to have finally snapped out of his daze.
Thales lowered his head immediately and pretended to look like he was unaffected and was busy eating his bread. But Cyril did not mind.
“When my younger self stood in Western Desert, on this piece of land passed down through generations of the Fakenhaz Family, I faced the endless horizon the Great Desert drew, and this was what it told me. This is my memory of the old Western Desert, the place where I was born and raised.”
In the next second, the Duke of Western Desert’s tone changed. “But…” A cold look seeped out of Cyril’s eyes, and it caused Thales to frown. “…look at it now.”
In that moment, Thales felt as though the heavy stillness in the room had gained substance.
The duke’s voice grew sharp and piercing again, and it made him subconsciously want to cover his ears.
“After the Bloody Year, the royal family took over Blade Fangs Camp and turned this place into a purely military-based town; they now follow rules and regulations that are different from those in Western Desert and Great Desert. There is no longer any fairness or cooperation between us. As the regular soldiers invade the Great Desert triumphantly, the situation has grown worse.”
Thales furrowed his brows slightly as he recalled the clash between the regular soldiers and recruits.
“What used to be a space outside the sphere of civilization has turned into a dangerous war zone. Traveling merchants have reduced in numbers, the mercenaries no longer enjoy the glory they once had, and the Barren breeds have vanished from the borders. The borders that were once bustling with noise and excitement have turned dangerous and are consumed by deadly stillness. All the rules and regulations have been broken; only chaos and blood are left.”
Thales recalled how Tampa the tavern owner lamented about the bad business.
“As for the orcs and Barren Bone people in the Great Desert, when they appear, they always come in large groups and are heavily-armed. They do not leave a single man alive wherever they go. The endless alarms, rebellions, and the numerous defence lines give people like us—whose real home is in Western Desert—a hard time.”
Duke Fakenhaz snorted coldly. “Only the Legendary Wing’s red Stardust war flag soars in the sky, and it is accompanied by the sounds of horses galloping and heads rolling on the ground every time he patrols the desert. He leaves behind the royal family’s glory and Western Desert’s blood. The hatred and resentment between the Eight Great Tribes, the Five Great Tribes, and us have only grown deeper.”
Thales swallowed the last mouthful of bread. He did not speak. He had predicted that something was about to happen.
“What did the Bloody Year bring us?” Cyril’s voice suddenly grew louder. “I don’t know.”
The duke’s cold, sharp voice, and his terrifying look made Thales fearful.
“I only know one thing: after the Bloody Year, after Herman was killed and when the war broke out, over the past eighteen years, the land of Western Desert became…” He accentuated every single word with immense force. “…something.”
Although he saw how the duke pressed the chair and stood up in a bold and forthright manner, Thales was still startled by the sound when the cane hit the ground.
*Thud, thud, thud.*
As the cane continued to tap against the ground, even though the Duke of Western Desert was not tall and big, his body closed in with an unusual coldness. It sent chills to the others. He stopped before Thales.
“Now, Your Highness.” Cyril Fakenhaz watched him coldly, his eyes carried an implication that said he will not allow other people escape from him.
“It is your turn to tell me what the Bloody Year has wrought us, Western Desert, and the people who lived in this land for generations?”
Thales tried hard to gulp. It was the first time he felt that the Duke of Western Desert, who was usually scornful, humorous, and sarcastic, had such a horrifying side to him, despite his ugly face and handicapped body.
The prince suppressed his guesses and replied with difficulty, “I do not understand.”
“You do not understand?” Cyril sneered, but there was no sense of the earlier casualness or humor in it. “Or perhaps, you do not want to understand?”
His dry and withered face looked like a dried skeleton, and it felt as though a bone-chilling wind was seeping out of his profound eyes. Thales wanted to say something, but the duke did not allow him that.
“The reason the Bloody Year took place, and what we have had to deal with, is because there was a monster,” the duke of Western Desert said coldly.
‘What?’ Thales frowned in confusion. “A monster?”
*Thunk!* Cyril’s cane hit the floor violently.
His tone did not allow room for doubt, but there was a deep hatred in his voice, “A monster that feeds on power, evaluates things using lives, and survives through destruction.”
The duke’s back faced the light, the gorges on his face were incomparably eerie, while his robes fluttered in the cold wind blowing inside the tower.
“Thales, it hides in the deepest corner of Renaissance Palace, in the supreme king’ s crown, in your ancestors’ tombs, and in the hearts of every Jadestar who stood in line to the crown.”
Thales blinked as he slowly understood—this was a metaphor.
“Every time it wakes up in a person’s heart and extends its talons and fangs, it stirs up a terrifying whirlpool and tries to absorb, crush, corrode and engulf everything in the kingdom. Thanks to it, Western Desert… No, it is not just Western Desert, everything that makes up the old Constellation is collapsing, going into ruin, vanishing, and fading away.”
In the tower, Cyril Fakenhaz, the Duke of Western Desert, pointed, cold and unwaveringly, at Prince Thales who looked serious and fully alert.
“And someone… has to do something.”